Have you ever seen someone run a red light or stop sign? What did you think about that person? Chances are you had thoughts run through your mind like, “Jerk!” or “Where are the cops when you need them?” Now turn the question around. Have you ever accidentally run a red light or stop sign? If you have, what were you thinking after it happened? You were probably thinking, “Holy ….” or “I hope the cops didn’t see!” What is the only difference between the two examples? When we are the ones that run the stop sign, we know our intent is not to harm others, and that we just made a mistake. When the other person runs the stop sign, however, we attribute their actions to the way they are.
So why do we attribute our behavior to situations and others’ behaviors to the type of person they are? Why when we have a bad morning do we justify our irritability but when others are irritable, we consider them difficult people? Because we’re human. Regardless of our intentions, people only know what they see through our actions, and we only know what we see through the actions of others. In between our intentions and our actions lies a huge gap. Here are 7 ways to help bridge the gap between intentions and actions:
1. Pay attention. As you go through your day, pay attention to the things you say and do. Are your actions in alignment with your intentions? You might have the very best intentions, but are the choices you are making supporting them?
2. Be deliberate. Make a concerted effort to think about what you do and say before you do it and say it. How might it be perceived? Is the message you are trying to send the one being received?
3. Seek feedback. Ask someone you know and trust to help keep you in check. Those closest to you typically know your intentions are good, even when your actions don’t provide the result you were hoping for. It helps to have a third party evaluate situations to provide objective feedback.
4. Hold off on judgment. The next time someone does or says something that bothers you, take a few minutes to evaluate the situation logically. Most likely, the intent behind the message was positive, even if the action didn’t appear that way.
5. Try harder than you think you should have to. In any relationship, there are times when both parties think they are working harder than the other. While it might not seem fair, remember, the goal is to get it right, not be right.
6. Give yourself and others a break. We are all doing the best we can with what we have, and we are all struggling to manage the incredible amount of things we have going on, both personally and professionally.
7. Be careful what you look for, you may find it. Remember, what we think about, we bring about. If you are looking for all of the reasons someone is difficult, or if you are searching to find negative intentions, you will most likely find them. Instead, focus on the positive and give people the benefit of the doubt.
As you go through your week, try to pay attention to your actions and how they might be perceived by others. As the great author “unkown” once said, “Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold – but so does a hard-boiled egg.”